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How education apps have become a priority for AT&T

Want some heavy support for your app? It may pay to invest in the education area.

Developers with education app ideas will find a sympathetic ear at AT&T.

The company plans to spur the development of apps that will help improve the state of education, and is planning an education-centric "hackathon" contest in June to find the smartest apps. The idea is to bring the Internet, video, social media, and the concept of "gamification" to the learning process.

It's part of a broader push by AT&T to improve the quality of education, and is a big personal cause for CEO Randall Stephenson. The company said today it plans to invest $250 million over the next five years to improving education. Part of that money will go to its AT&T Foundry, which will look into tapping new ways to teach students.

That's badly needed, as one in four students in the U.S.--or 1 million in total--drop out each year, according to a report by the Civic Enterprises, the Everyone Graduates Center, America's Promise Alliance, and the Alliance for Excellent Education (AT&T is the lead sponsor of the report).

While there has been a ton of focus on games, photo filters, and other different kinds of apps, there isn't as much energy put into education. AT&T is hoping to change that with its investment. The company plans to use its Foundry facilities to foster the development of education-centric apps.

In addition, the company has used hackathons to promote app development in specific areas, and could see a lot of interest in education with its contest in June.

AT&T would be following several players that have made similar pushes. Blackboard, for instance, has long worked on educational tools on the mobile platform. Its BlackBoard Mobile Learn application allows students and faculties to access their course, content, and organizations.

Tech luminaries Bill Gates and Eric Schmidt, meanwhile, have put their resources behind Sal Khan and his Khan Academy, a free online tutoring site that includes a mobile app.

For AT&T, this represents an additional level of investment in the area. The company has invested more than $100 million in education under its AT&T Aspire program since 2008.

"AT&T Aspire works toward an America where every student graduates high school equipped with the knowledge and skills to strengthen the nation's workforce," Stephenson said in a statement. America's schools could certainly use the help.